Law, Property, and Propriety: Defining Femininity through the Marriage Act and Social Decorum in
Frances Burney’s Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla.
Mariona Llacuna Vidal S4888065
Prof. Richard Lansdown Word Count: 16441
23 May 2022
MA Thesis Literary Studies. Track: English Literature and Culture.
University of Groningen.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Early Industrial Revolution and the Birth of Britain’s Polite Society...7
The Eighteenth-Century Woman: From Amazon to Domestic Wife ...8
The Marriage Act of 1753 and the Emergence of the Modern Family ...10
1. Heroines in Burney’s Novels: Defining the Ideals of Femininity and the Figure of the ‘Ideal Wife’...15
2. Female Socio-Economic (In)Dependence: Property and The Marriage Act...28
3. Outstepping the Boundaries of Law and Propriety: Incongruous Liaisons and Inappropriate Behaviour in Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla...42
Appendices Appendix A. Crude First-Marriage Rate…...60
List of Abbreviations
CC: Cecilia (1782) by Frances Burney.
CM: Camilla (1796) by Frances Burney.
EV: Evelina (1778) by Frances Burney.
INDEX OF FIGURES
Figure 1. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class...40 Figure 2. Illegitimacy Ratios and Prenuptial-Pregnancy Proportions...45
“Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives.”
(Edmund Burke in “Letters on a Regicide Peace” in The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, 1871)
In 1753, the marital institution in Britain became legislated under the clauses of Hardwick’s Marriage Act. This legal amendment was motivated by the necessity to control the nation’s social structures in response to social and economic changes caused by the emergence of commercial culture. This late-eighteenth-century transitional period was consolidated not only by the enactment of laws, but also by adopting a set of rules of decorum that would serve to establish social order among the gentry of the upper and middle classes, thereby giving rise to Britain’s polite society. In light of this historical backdrop, this thesis attempts to determine how these changes in parliamentary and social law in the late-eighteenth century served to solidify an emerging ideal of femininity that aligned with the nation’s socioeconomic needs. The study will address the correlation between law and propriety by contemplating whether the extent to which female characters ascribe to these legal parameters in Frances Burney’s Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla conforms with respect to the ideal standards of the virtuous eighteenth-century woman.
This evaluation will be carried out by considering the moral qualities attributed to the ideal standard of femininity in Burney’s period, which ascribe women to the domestic domain as mothers and wives. The heroines’ response to the social demands imposed on their gender will also be assessed by determining how they engage with the legal parameters of property and marriage, specifically by considering the outlawed practice of clandestine unions. In this way, by contemplating the impact that adherence to these regulations had on the social, economic, and psychic wellbeing of the novels’ female characters, this dissertation aims to provide insight into the social pressures that Burney’s heroines— and by extent, eighteenth-century middle-class women —had to endure as they ventured to successfully balance their prescribed social obligations with their concealed emotional desires.
Keywords: Frances Burney, femininity, propriety, the Marriage Act, property, law.
The Early Industrial Revolution and the Birth of Britain’s Polite Society.
In the late eighteenth century, Britain experienced a revolutionary upsurge that would redefine both its economic structures, as well as the cultural hallmarks that define the nation’s civic culture to this day. This change in the country’s socio-economic dynamics was brought about by the “specialization of the gains from trade” (Mokyr 16), which became central in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The most significant outcome of the growth of mercantilism, however, was not only the product of Britain’s economic development. In fact, the nation also experienced an alteration of its social, moral, and ideological hierarchies as it transitioned from an aristocratic-ruled elite to the steady rise of the middle classes during this period (Childs 14). As Philip Carter points out, the entry of the bourgeoisie into the upper social spheres prompted the English gentry to acculturate to the new socio-economic circumstances by adopting “as an up-to- date understanding of politeness” (Carter 25) that “permit[ted] people who lacked the traditional components of social status— inherited rank, formal education and a place in the political hierarchy —to achieve [this] by adopting a looser, supposedly more ‘natural’
code of behaviour.” (Langford 312) This growing concern with behaviour, however, was not limited to the middle classes’ urge to blend in with the country’s social elite. Rather, the rise of ‘natural’ politeness was based on a fundamentally pragmatic social philosophy that reflected the need to consolidate certain forms of political authority. As Carter observes, the emergence of the codes of conduct was paramount to maintaining social order in both the civil and economic arenas, as they served as “the guarantor of political liberty and new moral a commercial society.” (25) Accordingly, social decorum became an instrument in regulating the nation’s socio-economic stability, thus, in its form and function, resembling to the parliamentary laws that regulated the country’s economic and
political landscapes. By transcending the juridical law that imposed order in commercial contracts, manners functioned as “the rules that govern social interactions not covered by the law”, and thus “allowed society to exist, free from the intervention of government.”
(Kauffmann 390) This interrelationship between law and manners is also emphasized by some of the most celebrated eighteenth-century philosophers, such as David Hume, who stresses that, “as the mutual shocks in society, and the oppositions of interest and self- love have constrained mankind to establish the laws of justice [...] the eternal contrarieties, in company, of men's pride and self-conceit, have introduced the rules of Good Manners or Politeness, in order to facilitate the intercourse of minds, and an undisturbed commerce and conversation.” (Hume in Kauffmann 387) It is thus from the socio-cultural changes that gave rise to this newly polite British society in the eighteenth century that there stemmed the need to establish a set of moral principles both within the law and civil arenas that would secure the nation’s order in the social, political, and economic spheres.
The Eighteenth-Century Woman: From Amazon to Domestic Wife.
The impact of the revolutionary decades of late eighteenth-century on Britain’s gentry brought about by the expansion of mercantilism and the refashioned structure of the social world through a set of systematized codes of conduct was accompanied by the need to revise the position of women within the socio-economic demands of their culture. This change in the perception of gender roles would be conducted by the reinforcement of a new standardized form of femininity based on the notions of motherhood and domesticity— that which Dror Wahrman labels as “Queen Mother” (12) —which would replace other coexisting ideals of womanhood not in alignment with the economic and cultural needs of the nation. The counter-figure of the feminine conception of the Queen Mother was generally represented by the so-called Amazon, which originates from the
Greek mythological image of the female warrior characterized by her “noble, honourable, and heroic” character (Frowde qtd in Wahrman 14). As Wahrman (4) suggests, even though this revolutionary female icon represented a radical departure from the prevailing hierarchical gender structures that framed Britain’s patriarchal society, it was nonetheless celebrated until the mid-eighteenth century as an expression of “greatest Valour and Heroism.” (Weeks qtd in Wahrman 8) Yet in the decades between 1780 and 1790, this empowering representation of self-governance and strength typified by the Amazon became increasingly vilified and censored. This is explicitly elucidated in a variety of literary texts of the period that warn of the dangers of eulogizing this “haughty, disdainful, and supercilious” (Hunter 132) feminine image, whose deviant behaviour prompted the
“disintegration of the natural social fabric.” (Wahrman 9)The social anxiety caused by the perception of the Amazon as a destabilizer of social order could thus only be alleviated by a kind of femininity that supported women's “natural inferiority” and secured their
“subordinate social role” (Richardson 172) in the country’s social structures. Women were to be secluded within the domestic domain by taking on the roles of mothers and wives, based on the cultural logic that “motherhood and even marriage were of natural instinct.” (Wahrman 13) Although maternity had immemorially been considered an intrinsic physiological trait of the female sex, by the late eighteenth century motherhood became “inextricably intertwined with the essence of femininity for each and every woman,” to the extent that a woman choosing not to exercise this inherent maternal instinct was now “most likely to be branded ‘unnatural.’” (Wahrman 13) In this respect, this change in gender-role dynamics experienced in the late eighteenth century intentionally aimed at getting rid of earlier ideals of femininity that challenged the patriarchal order dominating both the household and the social structures of the nation.
The Marriage Act of 1753 and The Emergence of the Modern Family.
This shift in the understanding of gender roles and their respective duties was consolidated in the legal arena in 1753, when Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed, which not only helped to standardize the marital institution but also formed the basis of what we now refer to as the modern family. Whereas contracting marriage had been based on the notion that “FAITH [is that] by which the Man and Woman bind themselves to each other to live as Man and Wife” (Stebbing 5), thus simply requiring the articulation of the mere promise of such a union (per verba de praesenti or per verba de future), after the act became law, any marriage that failed to respect its ceremonial forms would automatically face annulment. This institutionalization of marriage required the spouses to follow a public ceremony conducted by the Church, thus preventing the possibility of performing the formerly popular unsupervised (yet legal) forms of marital unions, such as clandestine marriages, private undertakings, and old local marriage rites. (Bannet 234) It is by legalizing the marital institution that the “frequent problem of polygamy” (Ganz 26) and the consequent cases of filial illegitimacy that resulted from extramarital affairs, or multiple marriages, were regulated and (hopefully) reduced. By requiring men and women to engage in monogamous unions, the Marriage Bill not only served to enforce the civil administration, but also functioned as an economic policy regulating inheritance, thereby reducing instances of poverty among abandoned mothers and children who lacked the economic support of a male figure. (Bannet 234) The impact of the act on Britain’s economic landscape, however, went beyond lowering the country’s index of pauperism, as it was also intended to contribute to the economic growth of the nation given the general belief that “without marriages, the population would every year
decrease; and agriculture, trade and manufactures could not be carried on” (Douglas 32).1 Marriage, childbirth, and the consequent demographic growth of the country thus became a central concern for Britain’s economic development.
This underlying politico-economic ambition manifested in the Marriage Act was therefore directly related with the framing of the domestic role of women within the family. Women “gained social importance as wives and mothers instead of as sisters and daughters”, as their “sexual, social, productive and reproductive services” were now
“privatized in the sense of private ownership.” (Jordan 563) It was by secluding women within their status as wives and mothers that the inner structures of the family were remodelled and regularized. Hence, instead of advocating for the clannish parent/child kinship characteristic of the medieval and modern eras, by the eighteenth century the husband-wife relationship was being prioritized, thus giving rise to the idea of the nuclear family.
The prominent cultural impact hastened by the remodelling of the values that shaped a newly emerging idea of femininity will be assessed in this study by contemplating how such a change on gender identities is reflected in the systematization of the marital institution catalysed by the Marriage Act and the refashioning of the principles of behavioural propriety in etiquette and social decorum. I shall consider how such change on gender norms is materialized in the legal space, both by governmental law and through codified forms of conduct. Furthermore, through an analysis of Burney’s novels, my discussion will align with the “Law and Literature” movement initiated in the 1970s, with the intention to further explore the close relationship between legal education and legal
1 It should be noted that child labour was common in the eighteenth century in arenas such as the domestic industries, agriculture, and mining. (Bannet 250)
scholarship by considering how “literature had for many centuries been in conversation with legal change.” (Nussbaum et al. 32)
With the rise of feminist literary theory in academic circles in the 1980s and 1990s, the law and literature movement was refashioned towards examining the impact of legal practices on the female gender throughout a variety of historical and literary periods. This growing interest in the portrayal of women’s social roles and duties in British history went hand in hand with a growing objective to focus attention on works written by female authors such as Frances Burney, whose novels, according to Martha Nussbaum, served as outstanding examples for evaluating the “severe and homely virtues of prudence and economy” (6) that ideally framed the female character in the late eighteenth century.
Studying the role of women in Burney’s works from the gender studies lens has also been adopted by Barbara Zonitch, who, according to the reviewer Richetti, in her book Familiar Violence: Gender and Social Upheaval in the Novels of Frances Burney (1997) “focuses sharply on the problem of violence against women in Burney’s four novels.” (Richetti 502) Furthermore, Zonitch offers a feminist reading of Burney’s literary works by focusing on “the particularized historical dilemmas Burney's heroines face, whereby every possible ideological position is already occupied by varieties of patriarchal domination and control.” (Richetti 503) This interest in analysing the gender roles assigned to Burney’s heroines by looking at the legal and social panorama presented in the author’s novels has also recently been wielded by scholars such as Elizabeth Gruner, who explicitly explores the relationship between law and literature by assessing how Burney’s heroines’ agency is constrained by the patrilineal inheritance system as well as by the premises of the Marriage Act; “Burney places her heroine at the centre of a web of demands, her credit fluctuating concerning men's competing claims […]
fashionable society is a giant marketplace, with no law save the law of appearances and
the desires to which they cater.” (136) The relationship between the effects of law on the female gender has continued to be the focus of study in the current century, with studies by Klekar (2005), Meghan Woodworth (2009), and Meghan Jordan’s “Madness and Matrimony in Frances Burney’s Cecilia” (2015) being among the most recent.
Against the backdrop of this academic panorama, I situate my work within the framework of the most recent studies on law and literature in the works of female writers by examining how legal enactments such as the Marriage Act directly contributed to the redefinition of femininity by legally circumscribing it to the changing socio-economic needs of eighteenth-century British society. My aim, nonetheless, is to go beyond an analysis of strictly parliamentary legal decrees. Drawing on discussions by David Hume and Edmund Burke, I intend to include social manners as part of this legal framework with the purpose of examining how both state law and the socially constructed rules of etiquette can be used to evaluate the socio-cultural and socio-economic panorama of Britain envisioned by Burney in her literary work.
Following this rationale, this thesis will consider how the shift in the ideals of femininity that arose in the late eighteenth century was moulded by the legalisation of the marital institution perfected by Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, together with a tightening of the rules of politeness that would dictate the behaviour of the virtuous woman within the British middle and upper social spheres. This analysis will be conducted through the study of Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796) by examining how the heroines respond to these legal, economic, and social constraints that defined the new paragon of femininity. To this end, I shall assess the virtuousness and moral qualities of the characters as women by whether they abide by or transgress these laws and social rules.
The purpose of this study is to determine how Burney’s literary works respond to the clauses of the Marriage Act and the codes of social decorum that framed the new
standards of womanhood, and which concurrently aligned with the socio-economic interests of the emerging late-eighteenth-century British society.
To give a comprehensive and responsive account of how Burney’s novels engage with the changes in the legal and social arenas, this thesis is divided into three main sections, each focusing on an aspect that defines the relationship between law and gender in Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla. Chapter One addresses the rules of conduct that shape the gender norms prevalent in the eighteenth century in relation to the female sex by focusing on the heroines’ sense of social propriety and how this reflects their understanding of their social duties both as daughters and future wives based on the notions of maternity and domesticity. Chapter Two elaborates on the legal constraints embedded in the patterns of property inheritance that often limited women’s economic independence. This analysis will be carried out by examining both the co-dependent relationships of the novels’
heroines— and heiresses —to their respective guardians, patrons, and families, as well as the marriage plot inherent in Burney’s works, and how this responds to the legal panorama of the late-eighteenth century. Finally, Chapter Three offers a close insight into the relationship between law and manners by exploring some instances of how governmental laws on marriage and social propriety are transgressed in Burney’s novels, altogether with the socio-economic repercussion that this has on their characters. This final section of the thesis, thus, will assess whether there is a direct correlation between the juridical order imposed by the legal sphere and the rules of etiquette intended to maintain social order within polite British society.
1. Heroines in Burney’s Novels: Defining the Ideals of Femininity and the Figure of the ‘Ideal Wife.’
All three of Burney’s early novels (1778-1796) revolve around the narrative of the heroines’ journey from the safety of the domestic space as daughters to their transition into womanhood as prospective wives. This characteristic coming-of-age narrative is reinforced in Camilla, Cecilia and Evelina by displaying a change in the setting in which the action takes place. Accordingly, the young women are taken from the tranquillity of their respective homes in the countryside and are introduced to the vibrant atmosphere of the city, which, despite its charm, underscores the competitive and treacherous dynamics of the British marriage market.2 The success of the young heroines in their quest to become future wives, however, depends on the extent to which they succeed in presenting their virtuousness to society. In Burney’s context, their worth as women was measured by taking into consideration both their potential qualities as mothers and “educat [ors] of their beauteous Offspring,” as well as wives, whose duty it was to “make the Husband’s Home, the chief Comfort and Enjoyment of his Life: When tired with public Employments, he found his well-managed Family all in Joy to receive him.” (Philogamus qtd in Jones 77) According to Vivien Jones, this clearly defined domestic role of women is determined by the “softer virtues” that lie at the heart of womanhood, as they become
“subordinate virtues” which “give way to hierarchy” (4) between the two genders.
Wherefore, encompassing such “softer virtues” became one of the most determining factors “not only in establishing a sense of middle-class identity, but in bringing about a general ‘feminization’ of culture.” (Jones 11) Consequently, the unmarried woman’s way to demonstrate that she encompassed the “modesty and reserve” (Home 162) that
2 As Tanner (145) stresses, cities —and especially London and Bath—were the places where genteel society converged in the hunt for a spouse.
corresponded to the ideal of femininity was to display her purity of conduct and mannered behaviour. According to Palomo, Burney’s novels showcase how this prescriptive social behaviour determined women’s economic and social status in their marriage: “for Burney’s heroines the abiding by the norms of propriety was not a question of free election, but of survival,” (445) as “far from being negligible and ridiculous, the compulsion of the heroine to appear publicly unimpeachable is her only way to acquire or maintain a place in the social world.” (446) In consideration of this socio-cultural panorama, this chapter will examine whether the sense of propriety and modesty demonstrated by the heroines in Burney’s novels is indeed thought of as an indicator of their value as wives and mothers by both the young ladies’ admirers, and the social milieu.
Ultimately, I shall also examine whether a lack of the moral qualities attributed to the female gender might pose a threat to domestic stability in the household.
In Burney’s works the centrality of good manners in defining the ideal standards of femininity is made clear by the ways in which beauty and intellect without a sense of decorum as seen as incompatible with being a virtuous woman and wife. This contrast between the concepts of beauty, reason, and modesty is bestowed in Camilla through the characters of Indiana, Eugenia, and Camilla, respectively. From early in the narrative, Indiana is described as the most desirable one of the three cousins, as her “beauty was of so regular cast, that her face had no feature, no look to which criticism could point as susceptible of improvement,” or which “admiration could dwell [one] with more delight than on the rest.” (CM 84) Although Indiana’s attractiveness captivates a conspicuous number of admirers, including her devotee, Edgar Mandlebert, she is chastised by Mrs Tyrold as being “but a beautiful doll [...] incapable of comprehending either business or literature.” (CM 221) The hollowness of beauty unsupported by reason is further stressed by Camilla’s mother when she pinpoints the doomed union between Miss Lynmere and
Mr Mandlebert by stating how he “is yet too new in the world to be aware how much of life remains when youth is gone, and too unpractised to foresee, that beauty loses its power even before it loses its charms, and that the season of declining nature sighs deeply for the support which sympathy and intelligence can alone bestow.” (CM 115) Through this statement, Mrs Tyrold seems to echo Wetenhall Wilkes (1705/6-1751), who goes beyond the importance of bracketing beauty with intelligence by stressing how chastity is the virtue that defines an exemplary female character, for “without it, beauty is unlovely, wit is mean and wanton; quality contemplative, and good-breeding worthless.”
(Wilkes qtd in Jones 29)
Indiana Lynmere’s alluring yet shallow character is countered by Eugenia Tyrold, who is depicted as her cousin’s absolute antithesis. After suffering from a serious case of smallpox as a child, Eugenia’s appearance is completely altered, as “not a trace of her beauty is left,” and, instead, her face is transfigured into a “havoc grim.” (CM 24) In response to such a tragedy, Eugenia’s uncle determines to compensate for her lack of beauty by granting her an excellent education, which turns her into a remarkably “learned young female.” (CM 386) Nonetheless, although the young girl’s intellectual virtues are regarded as an honourable quality by her family, her superlative intellect is not estimated as a desirable trait for a future wife in the marriage market. This social rejection of an overeducated woman is explicitly referred to by Eugenia’s assigned fiancé, Mr Clermont, who after being informed that Eugenia “talks Greek and Latin” exclaims, “Does she so?
Then, by the Lord! She is no wife of mine! I’d as soon marry the old Doctor himself! And I’m sure he’d make me as pretty as a wife. Greek and Latin! Why I’d soon tie myself to a rod. Pretty sort of dinners she’ll make!” (CM 579) Mr Clermont’s final remark on the young woman’s incompetency to make supper points towards the general cultural fear of placing women in settings other than the domestic sphere, for as the editor of a religious
magazine, Jane Taylor, points out, “the grand end which we [women] ought to propose to ourselves in every intellectual study is moral improvement.” (370) In accordance with Mrs Taylor’s reasoning, Mr Clermont assumes that Eugenia’s devotion to academic literacy revels her misplacement within gender structures, which will unequivocally result in the dysfunction of her domestic duties as a wife.
It is only the woman who encompasses a balanced measure of beauty and reason altogether with a great sense of propriety that can typify the ideal conception of femininity. Burney represents such an exemplary individual through her three early fictional heroines: Cecilia, Camilla, and Evelina. As Mr Tyrold writes in his letter to his daughter— in which he counsels her on how to behave morally righteously despite her affectionate feelings towards a man who is allegedly pre-engaged —the traits “with which to encounter them [a woman] cannot fail to success” are “good sense and delicacy.” (CM 358) While good sense “will talk to you of those boundaries which custom forbids your sex to pass, and the hazard of any individual attempt to transgress them, [...] delicacy is an attribute so particularly feminine, that were your reflections less agitated by your feelings, you could delineate more distinctly than myself its appropriate laws.” (CM 356;
italics added) Mr Tyrold’s reference to social demeanour as “laws” is especially relevant here, as it connotes the double significance of the term by presenting how the female sex is governed by a set of ‘natural’ laws, which, in turn, align with the British parliamentary law and the social rules of etiquette attributed to women. Accordingly, Mr Tyrold attempts to frame these “natural” laws of the feminine gender within a social conception of how they should manifest themselves in women’s behaviour, that is, through the self- restraint of one’s unchaste desires, for “imprudence cannot but end in the demolition of that dignified equanimity, and modest propriety.” (CM 357) Hence, neglecting decorum may become the “corroding disturbance [of] all your life’s comfort to yourself, and all its
social purposes to your friends and to the world.” (CM 357) Upon the dreadful consequences of not displaying the natural attributes assigned to her gender, Camilla follows her father’s counsel, and although she is reluctant to separate from Edgar, her consciousness “became soon a call upon her integrity, and her regret was succeeded by a summons upon propriety. She gave herself up as lost to all personal felicity but hoped she had discovered the tendency of her affliction, in time to avoid the dangers, and the errors to which it might lead.” (CM 514) Similarly, Cecilia chooses her moral integrity over her emotional desires when she rejects Mortimer’s proposal in order to be faithful to the oath she made to her lover’s family to not marry their son. Even Evelina, who despite not having received a proper education on the norms of decorum— as Lord Orville suggests by stressing: “Doubtless, Ma’am, everything must be infinitely novel to you. Our customs, our manners, and the les etiquettes de nous autres, can have very little resemblance to those you have been used to” (EV 80) —compensates for the lack of refined behaviour by possessing a remarkably upright character, as she “has too much sensibility to be indifferent to it,” altogether with “too much beauty to escape notice.”
(EV 35) Thus, by showing how the heroines possess a great sense of “sensibility” and propriety independently from their education background, Burney’s works suggest how it is their intrinsically chaste and morally righteous disposition that ultimately makes them, rather than other women, the object of desire of the novels’ heroes.
The ideal wife, however, must not only encompass the attributes of modesty and delicacy, which manifest itself in the restrained character that defines the well-mannered individual, but must also demonstrate her potentiality to fulfil her duties as a wife in the domestic sphere by displaying her maternal instincts. In the eighteenth century, the reproductive role of women was considered one of the most fundamental attributes of the female sex, for while “women were principally designed for producing the Species,”
men’s obligations conformed to “other greater Ends.” (Philogamus qtd in Vives 77) Following Philogamus’ statement, women in British society were expected to display an inclination for maternal duty to fulfil their assigned role in the marital space. This is explicitly portrayed in Camilla when, while visiting the destitute tenants at the barn, the young heroine takes an interest in the family’s infant, and “perceiving that the baby was no longer at his mother’s breasts,” she “flew to the poor woman, and, taking the child in her arms, said: “Come, I can nurse and rest at the same time [...] She then folded the poor little half-starved child to her bosom, quieting, and kissing, and cooing over it.” (CM 111) The imagery that this scene represents is remarkably symbolic, for by “taking” the child from the mother’s arms, Camilla figuratively displaces the child’s biological mother and becomes herself a typified image of the maternal figure. Hence, although she cannot breastfeed the child, and does not yet have the sexual knowledge3 to become a mother herself, the young heroine already shows an inherent inclination toward the emotional proclivities and bodily functions that define the figure of the mother, which she emulates by assuming the position of the breastfeeding woman while “folding” and “cooing” over the child. It is precisely this conspicuous display of Camilla’s implicit inherent qualities as a child-caretaker that immediately captivates her suitor— and future husband —Edgar Mandlebert: “charmed with the youthful nurse, and seeing in her unaffected attitudes, and thousand graces he had never seen before remarked, and reading in her fondness for children the genuine sweetness of her character, he could not bear to have the pleasing reflection revolving in his mind.” (CM 112) Edgar’s statement suggests that by being
“charmed by the youthful nurse” Mr Mandlebert’s rationale is consistent with the collective consciousness about the notion of the ideal wife, as it is through this endearing
3 Women in the eighteenth-century did not receive any sexual education during their childhood. Only a few proto-feminists, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, advocated for the importance of teaching women about sexual practices. See The Wrongs of Woman: Or, Maria by Mary Wollstonecraft. London, 1798, p. 145.
mother-child scene that Camilla discloses of her nurturing and caring character, becoming thus a potential mother and wife in the eyes of both Edgar and the nation.
This social factor that the maternal imagery sustains in the novel is likewise allegorized through the notion of charity: by providing economically for the impoverished, the heroines are allegorized as symbolic mothers who operate as the carers and nurturers of the country’s unprivileged gentry. In both Cecilia and Camilla, the two young ladies encompass a “benevolent and charitable [character],” (CC 343) which is depicted as a denotation of the heroines’ virtuous moral: “A strong sense of DUTY, a fervent desire to ACT RIGHT, were the ruling characteristics of her mind: her affluence she therefore considered as a debt contracted with the poor.” (CC 24) While Cecilia not only assists her indebted governor, Mr Harrel, and provides for the impoverished low- class widow, Mrs Hill, but also becomes the benefactor of Miss Henrietta Belfield, likewise displays her philanthropy by consistently engaging in acts of kindness which disclose her selfless nature, as is suggested when she donates her monthly income to a begging child while exclaiming “how far half a guinea would go here, in poverty such as this!” (CM 194) According to Meghan Jordan, these acts of philanthropy performed by the young heroines serve both to elucidate their elevated sense of morality and denote that they are “valued by [their] charity and [their] attention to familial and social duty.” 4 (566) The social duty that Jordan attributes to charity thus discloses how the characters’
philanthropic nature serves to emphasize how they retain the “caring” and “nurturing”
(Wahrman 47) qualities that define their domestic role as mothers, and extrapolates such traits to the social sphere by presenting them as national motherly figures that congruently
4 Edward Copeland stresses that The Ladies Magazine (1770-1820), a renowned eighteenth-century British women’s periodical, promoted charity by depicting it as an endeavour performed by the “elegant woman,”
turning thus charity into a “fashionable [...] social responsibility.” (136)
care for and nurture the nation’s underprivileged, who they adopt and provide for as if they were their own kin.
The social influence of the biological and symbolic mother is further accentuated by women’s role as educators to their progeny, as it is through their teachings on morality and propriety that they perpetuate the gender dynamics that secure Britain’s social order.
As Myers suggests, re-fashioning the duties of the mother in the “stylish new mode of enlightened domesticity” was patterned by the redefinition of women’s “maternal and pedagogical power,” (71) for “mothers who took charge of their children’s lives and education would not only have power to fashion the skills and mores of the rising generation; they would have control of the nation’s principal source of wealth.” (Bannet 242) Accordingly, given the “growing importance of education” in mid-eighteenth- century Britain, upper-middle class British women adopted their “natural role as domestic caretakers,” which prompted them to acquire a “more intellectually demanding, extensive education themselves if they were to later prove fit for their children.” (Richardson 167) The ideal of the perfect mother was therefore redefined as a “woman who lives for and through her children and who finds fulfilment in the act of forming her children into certain kinds of individuals.” (Myers 71) To act as this civilizing influence upon their progeny, mothers had to elicit the virtues of “sobriety,” “modesty,” that shaped a woman’s “property of conduct” (Fordyce qtd in Richardson 172), which were qualities that would later become ingrained in their own daughters’ behaviour. The influence of the maternal figure upon the moral and decorous character of the child is showcased in Camilla, in which Mrs Tyrold is depicted as the paradigm of the ideal mother, as she is
“unaffectedly beloved” by all her children, given the “timidity of her humility,” and “her high sense of parental superiority.” (CM 239) Mrs Tyrold’s value as a mother is unequivocally defined when, on Camilla’s return to her hometown in Etherington after
suffering from her aunt’s reprisal given Edgar’s affection for Camilla over Indiana, Mrs Tyorld regrets the danger of leaving her daughter under the supervision of anyone but herself, that is, her mother, for she believes Camilla to be “too young, too inconsiderate, too innocent, indeed, to be left so utterly to herself.” (CM 239) It is thus through this representation of the mother-daughter relationship that Burney’s novel serves to depict the “designated function of any mother within patriarchy” (Kowaleski-Wallace 24) by mirroring how, through advocating for the centrality of “dignified equanimity and modest propriety” (CM 362) Mrs Tyrold endorses the “the inculcation of values necessary for the perpetuation of the patriarchal structure.” (Kowaleski-Wallace 24)
Yet while Camilla’s great sense of propriety— demonstrated by her ability to restrain her affection for the man to whom she is attracted —arguably stems from her mother’s teachings and the exemplary decorous behaviour that defines her persona, Cecilia and Evelina are depicted as characters who lacked a maternal figure during their upbringing, which is presented as a condition that ineluctably interrupts the heroines’
acquisition of a proper sense of decorum. In both narratives, the two young women are orphans who have been raised and educated by their respective male tutors. While Cecilia was left under the care of her uncle Mr Dean after losing her father and mother in her early youth, Evelina becomes Mr Villars’ protégée in the absence of her father, who abandoned her and her mother prior to Evelina’s birth. Although the lack of a maternal figure affected Cecilia only in terms of her “timid fears of total inexperience,” when confronted by the “splendour and diversity of London assembly” (9)— an “inexperience”
that caused her to often become the pray of fortune-seekers —not receiving an adequate tutelage at a young age becomes the source of disgrace of Evelina’s lineage. As Mr Villars recounts, the family’s doomed fate results from how Evelina’s grandmother, being “a woman low-bred and illiberal” was “trust [ed with] the conduct and morals of his
daughter,” as it was a “duty to which, from her own child, were certainly her due.” (EV 26) However, given her “fail [ings] in affection and justice,” the child was put under the care of Mr Villars, who “brought her up under [his] care [...] from the second to the eighteenth year of her life.” (EV 26) Although Miss Evelyn received an education, she failed to subscribe to the chaste demeanour that defined a virtuous woman, for on her solo visit to London, she becomes involved with a man who, soon after the clandestine union, abandoned both the mother and the new-born. This tragic chain of events that haunts Evelina and her female predecessors could then be attributed to the negligent education that the family’s women received, not only from Evelyn’s grandmother, who due to her illiteracy could not perform her obligations as a moral example to her daughter, but mostly by the fact that Miss Evelyn was raised by a man. The unnaturalness of ceding the responsibility of moral qualities to a male figure is stressed by Mr Villars, who laments
“thus it has happened, that the education of the daughter, and granddaughter, has devolved on me. What infinite misery have the two first caused me!” (EV 29) By emphasizing the
“misery” produced by the fact that the daughters’ education “devolved on [him],” Mr Villars seems to imply that only an educated woman, who herself possesses the qualities of virtue and propriety that must be instilled to the child, can prevent the offspring’s moral and social misfortune.
Burney’s literary works, however, show how women’s deviant character and lack of morals could negatively affect not only their role as mothers, but also their domestic duties as wives— allied as those things undoubtedly were. Although women, once married, were compelled by law to cede their wealth and property to their husbands—
acquiring thus the condition of femme covert —they were nonetheless expected to display their “virtues” as wives, which were “inevitably linked to functions which […] are essential to good household management,” (72) that is, to “prudently manage the
household economy.” (Harrington 34) In Burney’s novels, this duty is presented as one of the main causes of social anxiety for their suitors. This collective fear is explicitly addressed by Dr Orkbourne when he counsels Mr Mandelbert on his desire to marry Camilla, as he claims, “were she mine? Must be present at every look, every word, every emotion [...] to be scrupulous is not enough; to avoid all dangers of repentance.” (CM 161) Here, Dr Orkbourne’s speech, tinged with distrust and suspicion towards the virtues of the female sex, seems to suggest that the “softer virtues” (Jones 3) that attract male suitors could become a menace for the stability of the domestic domain if not counterbalanced by a great sense of sensibility to safeguard the economic stability in the household.
The hazardous consequences of a wife’s financial irresponsibility are demonstrated in the marriage of Mr and Mrs Harrel, who, although “at the head of a splendid fortune” (CC 14), are characterized by their excessive spending habits. As the
“wife to a man whose own pursuits soon shewed her the little value he himself set upon domestic happiness,” (CC 14) Mrs Harrel also adopts her husband’s financial negligence by spending his fortune on “her own pleasures and amusements.” (CC 196) Even if the couple does not initially view their expenses as a threat, the outstanding sum of accumulated debt the Harrels have with their various financial backers eventually induces Mr Harrel to commit suicide. Interestingly, despite being known as a gambler whose gaming had catastrophic financial consequences, in his suicide note Mr Harrel depicts his wife as the main architect of his downfall: “a good wife perhaps might have saved me, — mine, I thank her! tried not. Disengaged from me and my affairs […] dreadful will be the catastrophe she will see to-night; let her bring it home, and live better.” (CC 196) As Mr Harrel’s suicide note suggests, it is Mrs Harrel who must be condemned, not only for being complicit herself in their economic demise due to her reckless spending habits, but
most importantly for failing to “disengage[e]” her husband from his own lack of financial control. This accusation of the “irresponsible domestic woman” (Klekar 124) as the cause of her husband’s tragic fate is also shared by public opinion, as is implied by Mr Hobson, who claims that “Mrs Harrel is the worse for her husband's being shot through the head, because she was accessory to the same.” (CC 203) Here, Mr Hobson’s words seem to articulate the social fear of the “threat that women pose to the state when they neglect their positions in the household stated explicitly in financial (as well as sexual) terms,”
which “calls attention to the anxieties associated with women overstepping their traditional boundaries of the private sphere.” (Harrington 34) Hence, through its depiction of the Harrels’ malfunctioning matrimony, Burney’s novel underscores the central role of women in safeguarding domestic financial stability, for negligent fulfilment of this duty could lead not only to the economic demise of the family but, as Mr Harrel’s suicide suggests, to the destruction of the very individual.
By examining how the ideology of femininity in eighteenth-century Britain is represented in Burney’s literary works, this chapter has engaged with the fundamental role that women played in maintaining social stability by performing their duties as mothers and wives within the domains of the household. As the characters in Burney’s novellas suggest, the young woman must contain a perfect balance of beauty and reason to be regarded as a potential future spouse by the male suitors, for a beauty without morals or an overly educated woman that is unfamiliar with her domestic liabilities is perceived as a menace to family stability. However, the most prominent feature that defines the quality of a woman is her sense of propriety, which she employs to suppress her desire and thus elevate her chaste nature. In addition, Burney’s novels emphasize the important role of the mother as a moral educator, as through the character of Miss Evelyn, they depict how the lack of proper education in a lady can lead to deviant deportment and
result not only in the moral ruin of the mother, but also the social downfall of her children.
The idea of fatality brought on by the negligent mother and wife is also portrayed in Cecilia, in which Mrs Harrel’s lack of sensitivity conflates her family’s economic demise with her husband’s violent suicide. Thus, these instances in Burney’s narratives imply that women have no choice but to submit to their assigned gender duties, as lack of reason and propriety could not only difficult their pursuit to find a husband but might also shatter the stability of their marriages as well as the social structures that sustain them.
2. Female Socio-Economic (In)Dependence: Property and The Marriage Act.
As much as propriety was an essential attribute of the virtuous wife, in Britain’s eighteenth-century pragmatic society, “wealth and rank set the basic parameters for suitable candidates and helped determine which person is a potential spouse might have the opportunity to meet.” (Tague 90) This close link between marriage and wealth stemmed from the increasing concern with securing the capital of middle-class families.
Although, in the England of the late-eighteenth century, ownership of landed property continued to be the “greatest source of wealth, power and social honour,” the increase in monetary transactions brought about by Britain’s commercial culture made the traditional concept of wealth as being solely based on landed property “no longer adequate.”
(Davidoff and Hall 198) Accordingly, more of family fortune might consist of liquid assets, that, like property, would be transferred from generation to generation through patterns of inheritance. The legal stand on the legacy of estate concerning the female sex was contained in the so-called Law of Coverture,5 which determined that “the husband, by marriage, becomes master of his wife’s freehold property.” (Binham 177) While Peregrine Binham argues that this law was enacted on the grounds that men were more reasonable and educated than women and had greater knowledge of legal affairs, (177) in her novels, Burney shows how men’s access to family fortunes through marriage accompanied the onset of the commercialization of the marital institution, which
“evidence[d] the abnormally cynical, mercenary, and predatory ruthlessness about human relationships” in the period (Stone qtd in Ganz 44). Considering this legal and socio- cultural panorama, this chapter examines how the laws of inheritance and matrimony—
5 The principle of coverture in the late eighteenth century is described in Commentaries in the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1770). However, the Law of Coverture dates back to the common law system prevalent in the Late Middle Ages, specifically under the reign of Henry II (1154-1168).
The Law of Coverture and the Marriage Act of 1753 —not only limited women’s agency in the economic sphere, but also made them prime targets of the mercenary dynamics of the marriage market, as dramatized by Burney and her successors (most famously, Jane Austen). Through this analysis, this chapter also assesses the moral quality of the heroines’ eligible suitors by observing whether their deviant predatory demeanour on the legal regulations is reflected in their equally deviant behaviour by disregarding the rules of social decorum.
The limited— but not inexistent6 —female agency in the economic arena is shown in Burney’s early novels through the portrayal of the heroines’ relationship with their guardians, who not only exercise control over their financial state but also govern their marital affairs. As women, the young protagonists were not involved in the business practices that sustained the modus vivendi of the upper-middle social class to which they belonged. On the contrary, their financial stability was partially reliant on their male counterparts. While spouseless women were “regarded as being a permanently personal dependant of [their] father (or brothers),” after marriage they “became dependent on [their] husband.” (Davidoff and Hall 219) Yet notwithstanding the financially restrictive status that the female sex was subjected to, which served as the foundation for patrilineality and patriarchy principles, it was “primarily women who were the beneficiaries of ‘passive’ property yielding income only: trusts, annuities, subscriptions and insurance.” (Davidoff and Hall 209) This figure of the heiress becomes the centrepiece of Cecilia— subtitled Memoirs of an Heiress —in which the twenty-year-old heroine stands to inherit £10,000 from her uncle, Mr Daves, after his death. However, it is only because of a dearth of male heirs that Cecilia is next in line for succession. She is
6 See the case of Amelia Osborne, Marchioness of Carmarthen, (Byron’s father’s first wife) who despite being divorced from the Marquis of Carmarthen, and remarrying shortly after, she was “wealthy on her own right.” (Byron 5)
moreover in possession of her family’s inheritance “by default and only temporarily”
(Klekar 125),as the estate will transfer to her husband once she marries and adopts the figure of femme covert. Women’s role as mediators of the family fortune is underscored in Cecilia’s uncle’s will, in which he declares that she will receive “£3,000 per annum with no other restriction than that of annexing her name, if she married, to the disposal of her hand and her riches.” (CC 1) According to Klekar, this obstructive clause in Mr Daves’ testament “inextricably links [Cecilia’s] patrimony to her social identity,” as it limits the heroine’s choice of spouse by making her reliant on her suitor’s willingness to conform to the dictations of the will by “annexing her name” to his own.
Yet Cecilia’s socio-economic constraints are not only conditioned by her uncle’s testament, but also by Mr and Mrs Harrel, who take the young heiress under their protection until she reaches the age of majority: twenty-one. The guardians’ control over Cecilia’s economic status is shown in the novel through the figure of Mr Harrel, who refuses to let her administrate her finances— ‘“A bookseller’s bill?” cried he; “and do you want £600 for a bookseller’s bill?” (CC 83) —and forces Cecilia into lending him an outstanding sum of “some thousand pounds” (CC 120) by threatening her with suicide if she does not grant him the money.7Despite knowing that to preserve her property “[she]
ought to do nothing,” Cecilia eventually agrees to pay Mr Harrel the agreed-upon sum, claiming that “her whole fortune, at that moment, was valueless and unimportant to her, compared with the preservation of a fellow-creature.” (CC 120)Mr Harrel’s unscrupulous methods of profiting from Cecilia’s restricted legal authority over her property, moreover, include not just seizing her wealth, but also orchestrating her affairs in order to satisfy his acquaintances’ ambition to acquire Cecilia’s fortune upon marriage, despite, ironically,
7 Robert Robson further explains the power of attorney in eighteenth-century British law through the written records of Francis Hale Rigby’s son, whose “administration appears to have been completely in Ambrose’s [his attorney] hands,” (93) yet substantial transactions could only be made under the consent of the minor.
having himself reduced it. Accordingly, although “[Cecilia’s] consent is technically required for her to form a valid union” (Ganz 33), Harrel arranges a covert marital understanding between his friend Sir Robert Floyer and the young heiress without her knowledge or agreement. After discovering the arrayed union on Mortimer’s behalf, Cecilia highlights the inappropriateness of her benefactor’s demeanour through his abuse of power as her attorney: “Mr Harrel [she says] has been so strangely bigoted to his friend, that in his eagerness to manifest his regard for him, he seems to have forgotten every other consideration; he would not, else, have spread so widely a report that could so ill stand enquiry.” (CC 140)
The anxieties yielded in the novels’ female protagonists for being economically conditioned by their benefactors and guardians are also portrayed in Camilla, in which the heroine is at the mercy of her uncle’s judgement to lend his capital to one of his three nieces. Although Camilla is initially depicted as Sir Hugh’s favorite, and the one who he intends to make his heiress, the young woman’s economic prosperity is drastically disrupted when her uncle deems it his moral duty to leave his wealth to Eugenia after the nearly deadly consequences of her illness. While disinheriting Camilla causes Sir Hugh great distress— “my dear Camilla,” he replied, with increased agitation, “I have used you very ill; I have been your worst enemy” (CM 31) —he immediately proceeds to modify his will. The rapidity with which events unfold in this scene emphasizes Sir Hugh’s capricious character, which only underlines women’s anxieties concerning their fragile economic situation by relying on men’s inconstant attitudes. Although Camilla benevolently expresses her contentment upon her uncle’s resolution— “O if that is all!
[...] I am sure I can never, never be so wicked, as to envy poor little Eugenia, who has suffered so much, and almost been dying, because she will be richer than I shall be!”
(CM 34) —the repercussions of Sir Hugh’s decision would be detrimental to her, as her
dwindling financial status decreases her value as a prospective wife in the marriage market.
Unlike Cecilia and Camilla, Evelina does not face the tensions of inheritance patterns; as she is the child of a clandestine union, she lacks a paternal figure to financially support her. Although, prior to the enactment of the Marriage Act, the father-surrogate of an illegitimate child did not have the legal obligation to provide an annuity to the offspring and their mother, (Dodwell 34) Sir Belmont’s financial irresponsibility towards his daughter is depicted as utterly unnatural, as Evelina herself claims: “we concluded I was unnaturally rejected.” (EV 27) Yet the negligence of Evelina’s father undermines not only the young woman’s socio-economic status, but also her value as a prospective spouse.
Her lower middle-class condition is frequently pointed out in the novel by the members of London’s high society, who remark how her character became “so much improved”
(EV 69) since she had entered the circles of high society despite being an “ill-bred [...]
deserted child.” (EV 69) The significance of encompassing propriety with property and rank is ultimately disclosed at the resolution of the novel: it is only after Evelina is proven to be the Sir Belmont’s biological daughter, and thus her position as an heiress and aristocratic rank is confirmed, that her suitor and lover, Lord Orville, proposes marriage.
Although the novel’s resolution debunks Sir Belmont’s label of “dissipated” and
“unprincipled” (EV 131) father, and presents him instead as an honourable character who had been unjustly accused of abandoning his child— after being given to believe that his biological daughter was in fact the Miss Belmont to whom he had been granting a yearly annuity —the novel nonetheless discloses the system’s sternness towards women by revealing how their value in the public eye (particularly from a male perspective) ultimately depends on the potential of their wealth and social status.
The pitfalls of female dependency on men in the economic and marital spheres are further elucidated in Burney’s narratives by depicting how, within the mercenary dynamics of the marriage market, women were frequently victims of predatory men who took advantage of the regulations that conformed to the Law of Coverture to draw on women’s patrimony via marriage. In the growing commercial culture of the late eighteenth century, marriage was regarded as a contract through which the middle class
“enlarge[d] the field of partners, contacts, and sources of finance.” (Davidoff and Hall 209) Yet this corporatization of marriage was also criticized by members of parliament,8 who believed that being “an institution ordained by God and necessary to social stability,”
marriage was gradually becoming “an object of mockery, used only as a cynical means of increasing wealth.” (Tague 9) Furthermore, such liaisons triggered what Ingrid Tague refers to as “crisis of marriage” as they disregarded “the importance of a loving, companionate relationship between husband and wife,” as only a union based on mutual affection “would shore up the morals of English society.” (80) In her early novels, Burney depicts how the lack of affection in marriage was often concealed by politeness, as men who aimed to marry a woman to acquire her fortune made use of their mannered demeanour to hide their unworthy intentions. Such an unprincipled character is exemplified by Monckton in Cecilia, whom the heiress describes as her confidant and who is distinguished by his “delicacy and good manners.” (CC 5) Yet Monckton’s Machiavellian nature is revealed early in the novel, where it is stated that although “in the bloom of his youth, impatient for wealth and ambitious of power, he had tied himself to a rich dowager of quality,” (CC 2) he nonetheless “long looked upon [Cecilia] as his future property.” (CC 9; italics added) Here, the choice of the term “property” to define Cecilia is significant; it bluntly deprives her of her human entity and instead depicts the
8See Woodfall’s Reflections on the Marriage Act; with Some Hints at the New Law (1764), p. 15.
young woman as only the embodiment of her fortune. Monckton’s lucrative ambitions are eventually revealed at the masquerade ball where, hiding himself behind a costume, his mask acquires a symbolic significance; rather than concealing his real identity, it in fact exposes his true character, as his pretended propriety disguises his unprincipled demeanour. Accordingly, Monckton assumes the character of the ‘Black Gentleman’, who becomes Cecilia’s tormentor by physically entrapping her into his possession: “the black gentleman, raising himself upon his knees before her, paid her, in dumb shew, the humblest devoirs, yet prevented her from removing.” (CC 53)Cecilia makes it clear that Monckton’s attempts to imprison her cause her “vexation” and “distress,” (CC 54) and the heroine’s confinement reveals Monckton’s main objective throughout the novel, of sabotaging her relationships with Mortimer Delvile and Sir Robert Floyer who assume the roles of her loyal protectors—the ‘White Domino’ and the ‘Sheppard’, respectively—
in order to ultimately imprison her in marital union themselves. Thus, the masquerade scene serves to unmask the dynamic between the heroine and her suitors, as “Cecilia symbolically presents herself as a ‘gift,’ a commodity on the marriage market that inscribes her as an object to be bargained for rather than as an agent who controls how she will appear and function.” (Klekar 91)
Cecilia’s position as a victim of the overt and covert aggressiveness of the system is also exemplified through Eugenia and Bellamy’s relationship. Like Monckton, Bellamy is praised by demonstrating the “conduct of a gentleman” (CM 179) as he persistently professes the torment that his “ardent affection” (CM 183) for Eugenia causes him, to the point that he sends her a note claiming that, unless she accedes to meet him and “hear [his] final sentence”, he “will defer [his] mournful departure for that melancholy joy, which is the last [he] shall feel in [his] wretched existence!” (CM 335) Here, Bellamy reveals his character by coaxing Eugenia to accede to meet him through the threat of
committing suicide if she refuses. His deviant nature is further disclosed soon afterwards, when he “forcefully sprits [Eugenia] away to secure her fortune, by her hand.” (CM 799) Following the tragic event of the couple’s elopement, Mr Tyrold discloses that Bellamy is, in fact, an imposter named Nicholas Gwigg, who attempted to mend the financial ruin caused by his extravagant spending habits by “relying upon a very uncommonly handsome face and person, determined to seek a fairer lot, by eloping, if possible, with some heiress.” (CM 892) Yet Bellamy’s corrupt nature reaches its climax when, after having wed Eugenia, his sophisticated demeanour becomes hostile and remarkably aggressive— as Camilla reflects when she hears “the voice of Bellamy, speaking harshly to his unhappy wife,” to which she concludes that “a change so gross and quick from the obsequious Bellamy was beyond even her worst expectations, and she conceived as low an opinion of his understanding and his manners as of his morals.” (CM 828) Thus Bellamy, like Monckton, adopts a dual identity, as the decorous Bellamy the suitor is quickly overpowered by the corrupt and aggressive temperament of Nicholas Gwigg the husband. What is more, as much as Monckton’s and Bellamy’s demeanour eventually discloses their immoral nature, by seeking to be economically dependent on the financial status of their prospective wives both characters also fail to ascribe to the late-eighteenth century idea of manhood, for the duties of the male sex “implied the ability and willingness to support and protect women and children.” (Davidoff and Hall 199) This suggests that in the eighteenth century the concept of ‘masculinity’ (likewise
‘femininity’) was in the process of becoming political, for “manhood was to become a central part of claims to legitimate middle-class leadership.” (Davidoff and Hall 199) Henceforth, by rejecting the socio-economic duties that men were expected to fulfil in this mercantile British milieu, the two suitors, far from embodying the ideal of manliness,
are depicted as social parasites who seek refuge in the stability that their wives’ capital bestows on them.
While Monckton and Bellamy are vilified for their lucrative attitude towards marriage, Camilla and Evelina— who are not expected to inherit any bequest —rely on their success in the marriage market in order to secure their economic stability and hence their means of survival. Since “love was essential in order to make women accept the natural order of marriage,” as it “demanded their obedience to their husbands,” (Pobert 248) Camilla and Evelina are compelled to engage in a marital union that satisfies both their emotional and economic needs. This desire to balance moral duty with the pragmatic nature of marriage becomes the source of anxiety for the heroines, as lacking capital and even rank— as is Evelina’s case —the heroines can only attract a desirable suitor by displaying that sense of propriety that is desirable in an eligible wife. Accordingly, the heroines, like Monckton and Bellamy, utilize the rules of decorum to attract their prospective husbands. While Camilla employs her elevated sense of propriety to lure Edgar Mandlebert throughout the novel (Ganz 37), Evelina is compelled to adapt to the demands of her society by polishing her initially “rustic” (EV 21) demeanour in order to learn the rules of fashionable social behaviour, which ultimately win her the attention of Lord Orville.
Women’s limited condition within the dynamics of the marriage market and the legal patterns of inheritance was further accentuated after the passing of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753, which stated that marital unions between minors were only legally valid if they took place with the consent of the spouses’ parents (Stebbing 25). According to Edmund Burke, who was an ardent defender of the Act, the fundamental purpose of this clause is precisely to “preserve [parents] of minor children from any but wealthy or splendid matches,” for “when parents themselves marry their children, they become in